Three former Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest the night he was murdered by another police officer were found guilty of violating Floyd’s civil rights Thursday.
J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane both restrained Floyd’s torso and legs while another officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s neck during the May 2020 encounter. Tou Thao, Chauvin’s then-partner, stood nearby to control the crowd of onlookers.
Kueng, Lane and Thao were each charged with “deprivation of rights under color of law” for not giving Floyd medical aid despite his and bystanders’ cries for help over the roughly 9-minute period Floyd was restrained on the ground.
Americans are taught to believe officers place themselves in danger as civil servants, and a not guilty verdict would have countenanced these officers' cowardice.
The jury Thursday found the defendants' actions resulted in Floyd's death. They each face up to life in prison, though such a severe punishment is unlikely.
A jury convicted Chauvin of murder and manslaughter during a state trial last year. He pleaded guilty in December to violating Floyd’s civil rights. Kueng, Lane and Thao also face state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
During their federal trial, the three defendants claimed they weren’t at fault for Floyd’s death. Instead, they blamed Floyd himself, saying he forced them to restrain him by resisting arrest (a common police claim). And they each painted themselves as meek subordinates who had just been following orders from Chauvin.
“You’ll see and hear officer Chauvin call all of the shots,” Kueng’s attorney told the jury last month. Thao’s attorney said his client had been “standing there trying to figure out what to do” during the arrest but ultimately deferred to Chauvin. Lane’s attorney claimed he “was totally concerned and did everything he could possibly do to help George Floyd.”
Video recorded by the officers' body cameras the night of Floyd's death showed Lane asking Chauvin twice whether Floyd should be rolled on his side, in accordance with department policy. When Chauvin said no, Lane continued restraining Floyd facedown.
“For second after second, minute after minute, these three CPR-trained defendants stood or knelt next to Officer Chauvin as he slowly killed George Floyd right in front of them,” prosecutor Samantha Trepel said in court. “They chose not to protect George Floyd, the man they had handcuffed and placed in their custody.”
The jury’s ruling held the men accountable for their duty to protect. Americans are taught to believe officers place themselves in danger as civil servants, and a not guilty verdict would have countenanced these officers' cowardice. The former officers and their attorneys claimed it's a bridge too far to have expected them to stop their own participation in deadly violence.
But the jury rejected this feckless defense, and in the process refused to provide cover for officers who act with such shameful —and fatal — self-interest.